Valentine's Day is the perfect occasion to explain the O'Hara-Butler Theorem of Romantic Determinism. Basically the theorem states that the ultimate success or failure of any romantic relationship is absolutely determined by how you and your sweetheart answer this one simple question: Does Scarlett get Rhett back?
Of course, we all know Scarlett and Rhett. But let's take a moment and replay the scene anyway, just for the pure romantic pleasure of it.
You remember. Rhett stands in the doorway and says goodbye. He is leaving Scarlett and going back to Charleston. ''Oh Rhett. Rhett,'' she sobs. ''If you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?''
''Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.''
He puts his hat on, turns his back on her and walks off into the mist. Scarlett, in tears, sinks down on the steps. ''I can't let him go. There must be some way to bring him back.'' She decides she'll go home to Tara. ''Home. I'll go home. And I'll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.''
Well? What do you think? Does she get him back? Everyone has an opinion on this issue. If you don't believe me, conduct your own survey. Bring the question up when the conversation lags one night at a dinner party. Or walk around your office and ask people. ''Pardon me, but I'd like to ask you a question. Does Scarlett get Rhett back?''
At first, people will look at you in a strange way. Then they'll smile indulgently and try to dismiss you. But don't let them make you feel foolish. They're just reluctant to reveal something so intimate about themselves. Be persistent. Get the data. They have an opinion. A definite opinion. Everybody does.
Don't you? Be honest, now. Does she get him back? Haven't you known the answer to that question since the moment you finished the book or walked out of the theater at the end of the movie? Have you ever had any doubt? Could anything ever change your mind? Of course not.
What we have identified here is a fundamental difference between people. The known universe is divided into two groups. Some say ''Of course she gets him back.'' The rest say ''Never.'' Everybody gives reasons. ''No matter what he told her when he left, he's still in love with her. So when she pursues him, she'll get him back.''
''You're out of your mind. He's not that stupid. She's lost him forever. Serves her right.''
Reasoning, however, has nothing to do with this. This particular trait is immutable. Innate. Genetic. Scientists call it the ''Scarlett Factor.'' The O'Hara-Butler Theorem of Romantic Determinism rests on the discovery that this basic difference between people is outcome-determinative in romance. So once you learn the principles, you'll never have to worry again about whether you'll be lucky in love. Just follow the rules. They've all been validated by statistical studies.
1. If you don't believe Scarlett gets Rhett back, you should avoid falling in love with someone who agrees with you. It's the worst possible combination. More than 70 percent of those couples will end up in divorce. You're three times more likely to split than Democrats who marry Republicans.
2. Mixed marriages are risky. But don't despair. They can work, especially if you follow one simple procedure. After a fight, make sure that the spouse who walks out is always the one who believes that Rhett comes back in the end. Otherwise, the
psychic dynamics of reconciliation get completely screwed up.
3. Finally, if you are one of those people who have always known in your deepest heart that she gets him back, have patience. Cross-examine your suitors. Wait for someone who has never doubted. Someone who has kept the faith. Someone like me.
The statistical data on couples like us will touch your heart on this Valentine's Day. Can you believe that 78.4 percent of us end up marrying someone who shares our view? In fact, 46.3 percent of us kissed on our first date. Compared with other couples, we're 3.7 times more likely to have successful experiences in marriage counseling.
Be careful, however. I must warn you about one small but statistically identifiable deviant population. When asked the key question, a few people will yawn and shrug their shoulders.
Yeah, it's amazing. If you push them, here's what they'll say. ''Scarlett and Rhett are only fictional characters. He didn't go back to Charleston when he walked off into the mist that night. She didn't go back to Tara the next day. Neither of them went anywhere. They don't exist. They never existed. There never was a Scarlett. There never was a Rhett for her to get back.''
Can you believe it? Some people actually think that way. Sad, isn't it? But they can't help it. I'm told it's a chemical problem in one of their neuro-receptors. Some doctors at Hopkins have done research on it. They're working on a cure.
In the meantime, however, you can safely ignore these people in your survey. Under the theorem they're disqualified. You see, people like that don't have the capacity to enter into a romantic relationship in the first place, so there's nothing for the theorem to predict about them. Oh, they may get married or have an affair, but if there's no romance in it, who cares how it turns out?
Tim Baker, a local writer, takes Valentine's Day seriously.